Elephants on Parade 2011
nytheatre.com review by Di Jayawickrema
April 5, 2011
The fourth installment of EBC Ensemble's award-winning Elephants on Parade succeeds on all levels and stands as a radiant testament to why new independent theatre is always worth watching for. The six one-act plays that constitute the 2011 edition are lightly threaded together by their exposure of "the fears and horrors underlying American life," but the real commonalities that illuminate this production are the deft performances, impeccable production, and luminous scripts.
There is not much I can say about any of these pieces without spoiling them, which is a shame because these are the sorts of small wonders you want to talk about and talk about again. Alexander Motyl's Waiting by Godot, stunningly staged and directed by Rebecca Lewis-Whiston, provides an arch and surprisingly moving answer to the question of what Beckett's famous Godot was doing while others waited for him. In the midst of well-orchestrated background dialogue and movement, artful lighting and sound and versatile acting are used to usher in a quiet revelation, and the play ends up serving as a perfect introduction to the talents of the emerging actors and designers at work here. The thematic material only deepens with Daniel Welser Carroll's atmospheric The Day the Devil Passed Through Harper County, where a strange man walks into a rural kitchen on an ominous day and throws a provincial couple into confrontation with faith and the true nature of evil.
Veering into a lighter strain, The Right Reasons is a sparkling and utterly believable bedroom sketch by Tom Sime that explores the politics of sex in a smart and forthright way. The next vignette, The Sandbox by Matthew Hanf, also starts in a comedic vein about a neighborly spat about cat poop but swiftly takes a breathtakingly tragic turn. Chris Purnell's 0800-HELP-U-WRITE is a hilarious and moving tragicomedy about a man about to commit suicide and the writer he hired to produce the note for him. The last sketch, Michael Niederman's The Fairy Tale of America, is a priceless meta-analysis of the themes latent in "Little Red Riding Hood"—"I am not ready sexually!" Elizabeth Spano exclaims as the titular character as Eric Alba's wolf advances towards her. Quintessential American writer and recluse Hunter S. Thompson as the woodsman comes to save the day. This is a gruesomely fun sketch and by wisely avoiding taking itself too seriously, it ends up seeming wise indeed.
It's difficult to point to a particularly stellar performance or sketch as all inform the others in the true spirit of ensemble work. In the press letter from EBE, the producing directors write: "Projects like this are what we love about working in the off-off-Broadway community." I can only give EBE and all the emergent artists involved in Elephants on Parade 2011 a resounding "Me too!"